It’s not just for the sake of being different that Ford built the 2015 F-150 with a new aluminum body. It’s all about shedding weight. With an overall loss of some 320 kilograms, the F-150 can now tow more, haul more, and handle and brake better. When its official fuel figures are announced later this year, Ford says they’ll be between 5 and 20 percent better depending on the engine.
Above and beyond the weight loss, what impresses is that Ford also paid attention to the details, and the new F-150 has a host of standard or available features that have been either added or tweaked to make the truck more useful than ever.
Still some heavy metal
The F-150 still has a steel frame—the engineers looked into an aluminum one, but getting the strength along with cost and weight savings didn’t add up—but it has been completely redesigned as well. There’s more high-strength steel in it, there are now eight crossmembers instead of seven, it has patented twelve-sided “crush cans” in front for better crash energy absorption, and the rear rails drop down at the end for more reinforcement at the trailer hitch.
You’ll hear much about the “military-grade” aluminum in its ads, but you can ignore that. It’s a meaningless marketing term, since there isn’t any such standard; the company knows the body may be a hard sell to those who equate aluminum with easily-crumpled beer cans. In any case, Ford says it isn’t any easier to dent than a steel body. Anywhere the steel and aluminum get close to each other, the company uses coatings and special fasteners to prevent them from touching and corroding.
As with most trucks, the pricing list is a long one depending on the configuration, trim level, and engine, but the base price starts at $21,399 for the Regular Cab in 4×2, and $32,699 in 4×4. The SuperCab starts at $33,899 in 4×2 and $38,399 in 4×4, while the SuperCrew begins at $38,199 in 4×2 and $43,099 in 4×4, reaching $66,999 for the top-line Platinum trim.
Trim levels are the XL, XLT, Lariat, King Ranch and Platinum as before, and for the first time, you can order the FX4 Off-Road Package on every trim line.
Four engines are available, including a naturally-aspirated 3.5-litre V6 making 283 horsepower and 255 lb.-ft. of torque; a 5.0-litre V8 producing 385 horses and 387 lb.-ft.; and a turbocharged 3.5-litre EcoBoost V6 that churns out 365 horses and 420 lb.-ft. of torque.
There is also an all-new engine, a 2.7-litre EcoBoost V6 that makes 325 horsepower and 375 lb.-ft. of torque, and it’s a great fit in this lean machine. The new engine is lightweight itself, with a composite manifold and oil pan, and the first use of a compacted graphite iron block in a gasoline engine. It also has start/stop technology, that shuts the engine off when idling for extra fuel savings. The feature is automatically disabled when the truck is in 4×4 or tow-haul mode, or can be temporarily shut off via a button on the dash.
I started my day’s drive in a 2.7-equipped 4×2 SuperCrew, having piloted the 2014 model the evening before, and I noticed the weight difference immediately. The truck feels more agile, acceleration is fast, and it brakes quickly; the impression is more that you’re driving a big car, not a truck. The indentation in the middle of the hood improves forward visibility, which really helps with the lighter, airier feeling as well.
I then moved into a 4×4 SuperCrew with a 5.0-litre V8 engine. Its extra heft gave it more of a truck feel, but the weight loss compared to 2014 is still evident, especially when pitted against a Chevrolet Silverado and Ram 1500 on a quasi-autocross course.
Less truck, more trailer
That lighter weight also translates into more capability, since a truck’s capacity is ultimately measured by the combination of its weight, plus that of the trailer and/or the load it’s carrying. Reduce the truck’s weight, and the trailer can be heavier and still stay within the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR). The 2.7-litre EcoBoost is rated up to 8,500 lbs (3,855 kg) for towing, while the 3.5-litre EcoBoost can go as high as 12,200 lbs (5,533 kg). That’s an extra 900 lbs (408 kg) over the 2014 model with the 3.5-litre engine. Those figures are finally SAE-rated, too, so there’s no more fudging the numbers.
Not everything is stop-the-presses fabulous, of course. The new interior looks far better than the dated one it replaces, and it gets quite nice in the upper-range King Ranch and Platinum, but it’s not as handsome as Ram’s interior, and bears a considerable resemblance to the Chevy Silverado’s cabin.
The exclusive flat rear floor remains on the SuperCab and SuperCrew models, which is a great feature when you’re sliding cargo in. The SuperCab’s rear doors now open as far as 170 degrees, too. That will be much appreciated when parked alongside another vehicle and trying to load people or groceries into the back, since you won’t have that “triangle” formed when both doors are opened and you have to keep closing the rear one to get another bag out of the grocery cart.
A step forward
The step that slides out of the tailgate is still there, but the handle now folds into the gate alongside the step. This leaves the tailgate’s inner panel completely flat, without the handle’s bump where cargo could get caught up when being slid out of the box. You can now order a set of loading ramps for motorcycles and ATVs that lock into the tailgate when being used, and stow against the box sides when they’re not.
Also in the bed is BoxLink, four reinforced plates in the corners with removable locking cleats. The plates are standardized and will fit a variety of aftermarket tie-down systems as well. The tailgate is damped and it now locks with the doors, and on the upper trim lines, it’ll lower automatically when you hit the key fob.
There are LED cargo lights in the box, facing inward so they don’t shine in your eyes, while LED spotlights on the mirrors can be adjusted to light up the ground alongside. There’s an available 360-degree camera, and the rear view includes a guiding line to help you back up to the pin on your trailer. You can even order a self-parking feature, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, and collision warning that’ll brake the truck if you don’t pay attention to something stopped in front.
To say that there’s a lot riding on this truck is an understatement. Its lightweight construction may well reshape the segment: the next-generation Super Duty will be made of aluminum, and there are unconfirmed rumours that at least one other automaker is considering switching to it. The new F-150 goes on sale later this year and that’s when Ford will see if the gamble paid off, but from behind the wheel, I think it’s going to be a bestseller.